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5 Steps to Developing a Successful Mentoring Program

Developing a mentoring program for your company is a great idea. Mentoring can help you attract, retain and grow talented employees. It appeals to workers of all ages, from millennials who want on-the-spot feedback and coaching to baby boomers who are eager to give back before they retire. But the overwhelming majority of corporate mentoring programs fail. Why? Because of the implied simplicity in the concept. We think, “Mentoring—how hard can it be?”

In my experience creating and implementing successful, long-lasting mentoring programs for the past 20 years, I have found that, unless you master the following key steps, your mentoring program can go south quickly.

1. Obtain leadership support.

Many mentoring programs start with a grassroots approach: Employees see a need and ask management to support a formal mentoring program. But without strong leadership support, you won’t have the budget, the resources or the ability to attract strong mentors for your program. Bottom line: Ensure that you have leadership support at the onset.

2. Hire a consultant.

Just like with a marriage, where many things can go wrong if you haven’t talked about how you will handle issues ahead of time, a mentoring program can go wrong if you haven’t thought through big decisions, which a consultant will address. For instance, you will need to decide how you will select and pair mentors and protégés, what training mentors and protégés will receive, and how to evaluate the program. A qualified consultant will save you time and money in putting together a well thought-out plan.

3. Provide mentors and protégés with training.

Again, because of the implied simplicity in the concept of mentoring, many people think that you just pair mentors and protégés, and they will do fine. Not true. Just as a marriage counselor might help two people think through whether or not they want children, how much they will see their in-laws, and how to spend their money, mentors and protégés need to agree on issues like how often they will meet, what is confidential and what isn’t, and what role the protégé’s supervisor will have. Training will get the partnership off to the right start.

4. Think “evaluation.”

Leaders are not going to want to keep a mentoring program going unless they see a return on investment. Your mentoring program will not sustain itself unless you determine, ahead of time, the business reasons for creating the program and how you will evaluate success.

5. Assign responsibility to an employee who wants it.

You can doom your mentoring program to failure by assigning its creation and implementation to an employee who is not invested in the idea, who has too much on their plate already, and who will not be evaluated for their work. Creating, implementing and managing a mentoring program requires strategic thinking, communication skills, organizational skills and the ability to network effectively with employees at all levels. Don’t assign this responsibility to someone who is not willing or able to make it work.

My advice to companies that want to start a mentoring program is simple. Follow these five steps, and get ready to positively impact your company culture.